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University of Adelaide scientists have revealed breakthrough research that has the potential to help prevent the progression of multiple sclerosis. PI3Kγ Drives Priming and Survival of Autoreactive CD4+ T Cells during Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis was published in the journal PLOS One.

The researchers successfully halted the autoimmune disease in mice. They hold great hope the same results can be reproduced among humans. MS Research Australia research development manager Dr Lisa Melton said the study results were “extremely exciting”.

“It won’t be a cure but it’s another avenue by which we can reduce the inflammation which damages the brain and spinal cord,” she said.

“If this approach works in humans, it would stop the inflammation,” she said. ”But it won’t undo any damage to the nerves which has already occurred.”

In animal trials, Dr Iain Comerford and colleagues at the university successfully prevented the progression of MS by inhibiting the molecule, known as PI3Kgamma, which activates the cells that cause the immune system to attack itself and cause the nerve damage.

The same molecule has been successful in other autoimmune disorder trials.

Human trials were underway in other labs around the world, but any drug would be at least five years away, Dr Comerford said.

“In the animal model, it was preventive and also we could reverse the disease, but it remains to be seen whether that also happens in human beings,” he said.

He said the damage in MS sufferers was caused by white blood cells moving into and attacking the central nervous system.

“We’ve inhibited an enzyme, PI3Kgamma, which is involved in the activation and migration of white blood cells,” Dr Comerford said.

“The white blood cells have to move from the blood into the nervous system to do damage in MS.

“By doing that, we reduce the activation of the white blood cells and reduce the migration of the cells into the central nervous system.”

Dr Comerford and his team found that when PI3Kgamma was present, severe damage to myelin, which insulates the nerves, was evident, resulting in inflammation in the spinal cord and myelin loss.

The patient’s immune system would still function and provide immune responses which protect against infection.

He said that none of the existing drugs for MS patients was completely effective.

Dr Melton said the research delivered a more targeted approach, than existing drugs used to treat MS.

“We’ve got drugs that do really well at reducing the relapses which occur in MS but nothing is perfect,” she said. “They all have side-effects,” she said.

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